If you or someone you love drinks alcohol heavily, you may start to notice some changes in how they look over time.

If you or someone you love drinks alcohol heavily, you may start to notice some changes in how they look over time. Sometimes their skin may start to look older than you would expect, or they may gain weight. You may wonder if this is due to alcohol. Many signs of aging can start early because of alcohol use.

Article at a Glance:

  • Heavy alcohol use can cause changes to the skin because of the damage alcohol does to organs and chemicals in the body
  • Drinking alcohol may also worsen skin conditions that you already have
  • Because it is so high in calories, alcohol can result in weight gain in both men and women
  • Men may experience an increase in female hormones from heavy alcohol use, leading to breast formation
  • The brain can also undergo premature aging from alcohol use

Visible Signs of Drinking

Alcohol can cause visible changes to the body in several ways. Regular alcohol use can result in noticeable skin changes, and may even trigger or worsen some skin diseases. Alcohol can also cause changes not only in a person’s amount of body fat but also in how the fat is distributed around the body.

Skin Changes and Alcohol

The main effect alcohol has on the skin is indirect because alcohol does not usually harm the skin directly. Rather, alcohol harms other organs in the body, especially the liver. This organ damage causes chemical changes in the body that can harm the skin. Studies found that alcohol use does not lead to wrinkled skin. However, skin changes linked to alcohol use include:

  • Yellowed skin
  • Rashes
  • Color changes in skin
  • Spider veins
  • Small red dots on skin
  • Bulging veins on stomach
  • Skin that looks red
  • Higher rate of skin infections

If you struggle with an existing skin condition, alcohol can also worsen it. Because of the alcohol, the condition may be a lot more noticeable and visible than it otherwise would have been. Skin conditions that can worsen because of alcohol include:

  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema
  • Rosacea
  • Acne

Weight Changes and Alcohol

Alcohol can also cause weight gain, which may be associated with aging. Alcohol is very high in calories, and some alcoholic drinks also have a lot of sugar. This factor often leads to weight gain in people who drink heavily.

In men, heavy alcohol use can lead to hormone problems. One of the consequences of hormone problems is breast development in men. This development happens because alcohol use prevents estrogen from breaking down and impairs the making of testosterone. These hormone problems can also lead to men not carrying their weight around their belly as most men do, but rather the fat moving to the hips, thighs, and breasts, which is how many women carry fat.

Invisible Signs of Aging

Skin changes and weight gain are not the only ways in which alcohol can speed the aging process. Alcohol can also prematurely age parts of the body you cannot see. In particular, heavy alcohol use can age the brain. Some studies showed that there is even an impact on the brain of young people who drink heavily. These users performed much worse than their non-drinking young peers on tests; they performed similarly to elderly adults. One of the tests on which young heavy drinkers performed poorly was a test of executive function, which are higher-level brain skills that help you with various skills including:

  • Setting goals
  • Planning
  • Paying attention
  • Remembering things
  • Learning new things
  • Managing yourself

Although problems with executive function are common in the elderly, it is rare to find such issues in younger people. However, studies showed that up to 75 percent of people who struggle with alcohol use have a brain issue.

How Does Alcohol Change the Body’s Aging Process?

Doctors think that alcohol can quicken the body’s aging process in a few ways. One way that alcohol speeds aging is by causing the release of stress hormones in the body. The stress hormone system is known to impact aging. Alcohol is known to increase the release of stress hormones. Therefore, doctors think that there is an excess amount of stress hormones that are released in people who struggle with alcohol use. These stress hormones then speed aging in the body.

A second way that alcohol speeds aging is by harming different organs in the body, such as the liver. These damaged organs then harm the chemical balance in the body, leading to early aging.

Alcohol may also harm the skin by increasing the number of damaging chemicals in the body known as free radicals. Free radicals are linked to alcohol use and are also known to damage the skin and cause aging.

If you or a loved one are struggling to stop alcohol use, contact The Recovery Village. Using treatment programs tailored to each patient’s needs, treatment addresses addiction along with any co-occurring mental health disorders. You deserve a healthier future, call today.

Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Jessica Pyhtila
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

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Spencer RL, Hutchinson KE. “Alcohol, Aging, and the Stress Response.” National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1999. Accessed April 16, 2019.

Poljšak B, Dahmane R. “Free Radicals and Extrinsic Skin Aging.” Dermatology Research and Practice, February 29, 2012.  Accessed April 16, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.